[Singapore] Hainanese-Russian Dinner at Shashlik

Singaporeans were in an uproar when news came out that the old-school Shashlik was closing down last year. People who’d almost forgotten about its existence or haven’t stepped into its premises for years suddenly queued up to book a hard-to-get table in there.

The legendary Shashlik restaurant’s cuisine can best be described as Hainanese-style “Russian” - an eatery which, by all accounts, have survived in spite of Singapore’s fickle dining scene. Starting way back in 1963 as The White Bear Café on the corner of Bras Basah Road and Victoria St (at the time, the chef was a stout Russian woman), it moved to Liat Towers in 1967 and operated as Troika. It later expanded and moved to Tanjung Pagar but, when its original owner, Tang Ching Yung, sold it in 1983 & migrated to Australia, a group of ex-employees banded together to open Shashlik - and relocated back to Liat Towers in 1986. And there it has been since then.

Well, barely a few months after its closure in Nov 2015, some new investors have miraculously resurrected Shashlik. We were back there last Thursday to try the re-booted “new” version. Having been Shashlik regulars for decades - I must have dined there more than 100 times in the past 25 years - I really looked forward to tasting its familiar old dishes again.
Quite a few hits-and-misses as it tries to reproduce the old dishes - some with minor tweaks.

  1. Spruced up interior, albeit with the old, familiar layout.

  2. The new Shashlik’s soft, slightly sweet Hainanese buns are the same as those in the old Shashlik - but made moister and nicer this time round :slight_smile:

  3. Shashlik’s famous Borshch soup - as a teenager and into my young adulthood, I used to consider it the best-tasting soup in Singapore! It’s still very good now (although my current all-time favourite soup in town is the sharksfin soup in stonepot at Taste Paradise @ ION). But the new Shashlik’s soup is still 90% similar to the old one - the current incarnation has a deeper, hence slightly bitter, flavour, compared to the sweeter old version.

  4. Fish en Papillote - another old favourite.

  5. Gasp! The new version of Fish en Papillote, when unwrapped, bore no resemblance at all to the old one which had a Hainanese-Western style of sauce. The new version is more akin to Italian tomato-and-basil flavour. DON’T LIKE!! :frowning:

  6. Beef Stroganoff, served with buttered rice - this one is cooked using the same recipe as the old Shashlik’s but seems to lack a certain depth of flavour. I think the cook has changed. But still acceptable.

  7. My Beef Shashlik - now, I MUST say that the new Shashlik’s version is MUCH more superior to the old one! The meat is very well-marinated (the old Shashlik’s version tend to be a bit too bland) and absolutely delicious!

  8. Accompanying Russian salad for the beef Shashlik - very good. Just like the old Shashlik’s version.

  9. Fish in mushroom and cheese sauce. FAIL - the old version has a thicker sauce and more flavoursome. This new incarnation was watery and bland.

  10. Chicken a la King. I think the old Shashlik served the chicken in cream sauce with buttered rice. Here, it’s served on a rather chewy vol-au-vent which had the texture of a Yorkshire pudding. No good.

Overall - more misses than hits in the new, re-booted Shashlik. It’s “supposed” to be run by the two sons of the old head-waiter, but I can’t help feeling that the cooks have changed, and the old ones have just left the building with the old recipes.

Address
Shashlik Restaurant
06-19 Far East Shopping Centre
545 Orchard Road
Singapore 238882
Tel: +65 6732 6401

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Did Russian food make it into Singaporean cuisine in a similar way that they were introduced into Cantonese?

Yes we got plenty of borscht growing up, and, Campbell canned soups as well.

No, it wasn’t as successful as in HK.

Is Russian food quite big in Singapore and Malaysia? I remember seeing a Russian restaurant on Langkawi and it struck me as a tad incongruous.

No, not at all - authentic Russian restaurants don’t last long in Singapore: Kalinka Malinka and Nadezhda in Singapore, and Vladimir’s Place in KL were all good, but hardly last beyond a couple of years. Russian (and Eastern/Middle European) flavours don’t appeal to the Singaporean/Malaysian palate which favour assertive & spicy options.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold